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Dispatches News

Hard times

Hard times

Grace Toronto Church (Handout)

The Toronto District School Board in late August informed churches renting public schools: Starting Sept. 1 faith-based organizations no longer qualified for reduced rates available to other charitable non-religious organizations. With only a few days' notice, churches saw their rent doubled, quadrupled, or worse—with another 44 percent hike for all renters scheduled for Jan. 1.

The increases could drive out many of the hundreds of churches now meeting in Toronto public schools. School board spokesmen said the decision will reduce the $11 million the board lost renting out its buildings to outside groups. But Dan MacDonald, pastor of Grace Toronto Church, says the board makes money on at least some churches. Grace Toronto's former rent, $1,550, was over $800 more than what the district paid its support staff to open the building, he noted, yet officials raised the rent on a sister church from $990 per month to just over $4,000.

Canadian churches lack the experience and legal advocacy groups that New York churches had when the city tried to evict them earlier this year, and Christians seem reluctant to do battle. "There's a general outcry but the churches are pretty scattered," MacDonald said. "I don't think churches know what to do."

Julian Freeman, pastor of 70-member Grace Fellowship Church of East Toronto, says in his neighborhood a school provides free space for Muslim prayers on Friday afternoons. That's a case of "religious accommodation" for students as opposed to a permit for an outside group. But "on the surface it looks profoundly unfair," said Freeman. Still, Grace Fellowship has been studying Genesis. "We've seen how the Lord consistently provides for His people," Freeman said. "It's neat to see how, when the hard times come, God has been preparing us for them."